Authors: Gary Jonas
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Paranormal & Urban
Lina lived in Five Points, an area near downtown the city was trying to develop into a nice neighborhood the way they’d done with LoDo, but for now it remained one of the bad parts of town.
Gang members constantly tagged buildings, and shootings were common.
It wasn’t the best place for a family to take an evening stroll.
Kelly parked her black SUV at the curb half a block from Lina’s house.
It was the closest space she could find.
We all climbed out of the vehicle, and Kelly set the alarm.
“If some gangbanger jacks with my truck, I’ll break some skulls.”
“I’ll protect it,” Naomi said and faced the vehicle.
She moved her hands out to the sides then nodded.
“That should do it.”
The truck didn’t look any different, but that was the point.
The protection spell would keep people away.
They wouldn’t know why they were passing up the opportunity to steal the truck, but they’d go after an easier target.
If they did try to mess with it, they’d find that they couldn’t touch it.
Every once in a while, magic does have practical uses.
As we approached the house, Lina stepped onto the porch to meet us.
She was a large, Black woman with a jovial face.
She absolutely loved life and expected everyone to be happy around her.
Her positive emotions were contagious, and it was hard to be down when you were near her.
She should go in to social work.
“Jonathan,” she said and bounded down the steps to pull me into a hug.
“It’s so good to see you.”
I grimaced as she hugged me.
The pressure she put on my ribs sent waves of agony through me.
When she let go, I tried to give her a pleasant smile, but it was a bit forced.
“You’re looking well.”
She grabbed Naomi into a big hug.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry about your parents.
If you need anything, anything at all, I’m here for you.”
Lina looked at Kelly, who shook her head.
Kelly didn’t like people to hug her.
Most of the time she didn’t even like people to touch her.
Lina didn’t try to engulf Kelly.
She simply extended a hand.
You must be Kelly Chan.
I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Kelly accepted the handshake, though she usually forgoes such things since she likes to keep her hands free in case of an attack.
“I’m sure you have.”
“Let’s go inside and get you fixed up, Jonathan.”
She led us into her house.
On the outside, it looked like the rest of the small houses on the block: a bit run down but kept up as best as possible on a low income.
The people who owned homes here worked hard to get and keep them.
They didn’t do much as far as landscaping, and the houses could certainly use fresh paint, but the owners did take pride in their residences.
Inside, Lina’s house felt like home.
The antique furniture was warm and welcoming.
The lighting was subdued but not dim.
I could smell pork chop casserole and fresh-baked bread.
There’s plenty of food.”
“Let’s get Jonathan healed first,” Naomi said.
She pulled out some cash and handed it to Lina.
While Lina didn’t make a big deal out of it and didn’t bother to count it, she did operate on the simple principle that if someone puts money in your hand, you close your hand.
She made it disappear into one of her pockets.
Lina led me to the sofa.
“Have a seat.”
I sat down.
Kelly stood like a sentry by the door, peering outside every few minutes.
I didn’t know if she was watching her truck or checking for potential attackers.
She didn’t trust anyone who used magic to make a living.
If not for the Sekutar attack, she would never have accompanied us to Lina’s home.
Lina ran her hands over my ribs.
“They don’t feel broken so that’s good.
I stretched out on the sofa, and she placed her hands on my ribs.
“I’ve never healed you before, have I?” she asked.
“This won’t take long.”
“Actually, Lina, it won’t work.”
She smiled at me.
The body knows how it’s supposed to be.
I simply guide it and speed up the natural healing process.
I’ve got to warn you that I have to pull the pain from your injuries into myself so I can feel my way along to mend them back together.
Don’t be surprised if I cry out or faint.
I’m not a big fan of pain.
“I’ve noticed that,” I said.
Let’s get started.”
She closed her eyes and pressed on my ribs.
I grimaced and she looked confused.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Let’s try that again.”
She pressed on my ribs again and frowned.
“I don’t understand it,” she said.
“I can’t seem to do anything here.
That makes no sense.
Naomi, come here.”
Naomi approached and Lina placed a finger on one of the cuts on her forehead.
As Lina’s finger moved over the cut, it sealed itself and left a tiny scar that would disappear in a week or so.
“I don’t get it,” Lina said.
“I’ve never met anyone I couldn’t heal.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“You can work on Naomi while I talk to Kelly.”
Kelly and I stepped outside while Lina healed Naomi.
Out on the porch, Kelly scanned the neighborhood.
“You agreed to come here so Naomi could be healed,” she said.
“Seemed like a good idea.”
“Don’t fall for her again, Jonathan.
Nothing good can come from it.”
I didn’t say anything.
We stood in silence for a few minutes until Lina opened the door.
“Time to eat,” she said.
Kelly passed on the food, but Naomi and I both accepted a plate of pork chops, rice, bread, and salad.
Lina was a terrific cook.
I suspected she used magic in the kitchen, but she always insisted that she didn’t need magic to fix delicious meals.
“Dessert?” she asked when we’d finished.
Naomi shook her head.
Lina looked at me.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Dessert is the best part of every meal,” Lina said.
“One look at me should tell you that I never pass on dessert.”
She laughed and patted her ample belly.
She served herself a giant helping of apple pie with ice cream.
Kelly entered the dining room.
“We should be going.”
I rose and started to take my plate to the kitchen.
“Leave those,” Lina said as she cut into another slice of apple pie.
“I’ll take care of them.”
She took the plate from me and set it back on the table.
Naomi embraced Lina.
“Thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome, dear.
And if you need me for anything, don’t hesitate to come on over.
If you want to talk, I’m a great listener.”
“I’ll be all right.
I just need to find out what really happened.”
“Have you talked to Cantrell?”
Lina patted Naomi’s shoulder.
“You might give him a call.”
When Lina ushered us to the door, she didn’t come out onto the porch.
Instead, she closed the door behind us.
As we moved down the walk, I glanced back at her window and saw her collapse on the sofa.
“Is she all right?” I asked.
Naomi placed a hand on my arm.
“She needs to rest.
Healers give of themselves in order to heal someone.
She’ll probably sleep for a couple of hours after the work she did on me.”
We walked down the block toward the SUV.
“Who’s Cantrell?” I asked.
“A freelance wizard.”
Kelly hit the remote to unlock the truck as we approached.
Naomi opened her door and climbed in.
I did the same.
When Kelly reached for her door handle, her hand hit an invisible shield, and she couldn’t pass through.
She tried again and found her hand stopped an inch away from the door.
She did not look pleased.
“Oops,” Naomi said.
She waved her hands.
Kelly grabbed the handle with no trouble and opened the door easily now that the protection spell was gone.
She glared at Naomi as she climbed into the vehicle.
I knew better than to laugh, but it was hard to keep from smiling.
Naomi didn’t have Cantrell’s number stored in her phone, so as darkness fell across Denver, Kelly drove us toward Naomi’s house.
Unfortunately there were too many police cars in the neighborhood.
The Escort still sat at the end of the block, surrounded by yellow tape.
Officers and forensics were going over the area.
“Let’s go to my parents’ house,” Naomi said.
“We can get Cantrell’s number from Dad’s address book.”
“Where do they live?” Kelly asked.
“That’s damn near Castle Rock.”
“Mailing address is Castle Rock, actually.”
Kelly made a face but headed toward I-25.
“Somebody owes me gas money.”
We took I-25 to Castle Pines Parkway and cruised down to a subdivision called King’s Crossing.
Naomi’s parents had a house next to the Ridge at Castle Pines North golf course.
Their backyard bordered one of the fairways, yet no golf balls ever landed in their yard or broke any of their windows.
Now that they were both dead, I suspected that would change.
The Miller house was a tastefully decorated, 5,500-square-foot home.
They had a finished basement with a dedicated theater room complete with a 95-inch screen, high-definition projector, and 7.1 surround sound.
The room held eight theater chairs on risers and had a red velvet curtain that closed over the screen just like at a movie theater.
Framed movie posters for
Casablanca, The Godfather,
The Shawshank Redemption
adorned the walls.
As nice as the house was when I first visited, that theater room made the biggest impression.
Do I sound jealous?
Kelly pulled into the driveway.
Naomi climbed out of the truck and entered the security code to raise the garage door.
The garage was empty.
I suspected both cars were in the police impound lot since it seemed unlikely they’d still be at the grocery store.
We entered the house through the mud room, and when I opened the door to the living room, I saw the place was a wreck.
Furniture had been slit, and stuffing lay on the floor.
The contents of the credenza had been dumped out or tossed haphazardly.
“What the hell?” Naomi said.
I held her back.
“Kelly and I will check it out,” I said.
“Wait here in case someone is still inside.”
Kelly and I swept through the house.
Every room was a mess.
Dresser drawers lay on the floor, clothing and boxes were strewn everywhere.
I wanted to cry when I went down to the basement and saw they’d destroyed the theater room too.
The pool table lay on its side, balls scattered across the floor.
The poker table looked intact, but the cushions for the chairs were all sliced open.
I met up with Kelly as I climbed the stairs.
“Does this look like the work of your Sekutar brother?”
Kelly rolled her eyes.
“How should I know?”
“If you were going to ransack a house looking for a crystal, would you—?”
“I wouldn’t have to ransack a house.”
“Because I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to kill someone who could have been persuaded to hand it over.”
“Applying force when necessary.”
From the look in her eyes, I could tell she was hoping there would be someone to persuade soon.
We went back upstairs and found Naomi in the kitchen, picking up shards of china plates.
“These were Mom’s favorite dishes,” she said, staring at the pieces in her hands.
She dumped the broken plates into the trash then sat down at the kitchen table and turned on the waterworks.
Kelly looked away.
She was never comfortable with displays of emotion. “I’ll check outside,” she said.
When she left, I pulled up a chair beside Naomi.
“I’m sorry,” she said, sniffing and wiping at her nose.
She dabbed her eyes, but the tears kept flowing.
I put an arm around her, but she shrugged it off.
“I’m okay,” she said, fighting back the tears.
She stood and took a few deep breaths.
“It’s all right,” I said.
“No, it’s not.”
She ran a hand through her hair.
I waited for her to regain control.
She looked at me.
“Let’s find the damned address book.”
“I know where it is.”
“My keen detecting skills tell me it’s on the floor.”
She didn’t even smile.
It wasn’t funny but I’d hoped to lighten things up a bit.
That wasn’t going to happen.
I was right, of course.
The address book was on the floor in the office.
Naomi flipped through it and found the name she wanted: Frank Cantrell.
She placed the call and stood tapping her foot.
“It’s sending me to voice mail,” she said.
Then, “Frank, it’s Naomi.
Can you give me a call on my cell as soon as you can?”
She left her number and hung up.
She saved Cantrell’s number in her phone.
“You look exhausted,” I said.
“I think you’d better stay at Kelly’s tonight.”
Kelly called out, “I heard that, Jonathan, and the answer is no fucking way!”
“I’d rather stay at your place,” Naomi said.
“My place it is.”
She turned away from me, crouched behind the oak desk, and stood with a laptop computer in her hands.
“Maybe we’ll find something on this,” she said and headed toward the garage.
As we left the neighborhood, Naomi’s phone rang.
She pulled it from her purse and nodded.
“Cantrell,” she said to me after seeing the caller ID.
Then she answered, “This is Naomi.”
She held the phone away from her ear a bit so I could lean in and listen too.
Her hair smelled like jasmine, and I felt a bit distracted by her perfume.
I forced myself to focus on the phone call.
I could hear loud country music and crowd noise.
What you got on?” he asked.
I guess he thought he was funny.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m over at the Stampede, checkin’ out some cowgirls.”
The Stampede was a country bar in Aurora where people went to two-step, drink, and hook up.
I’d been there a few times, but I’ve always been more of a rocker than a country guy.
“Your wife know you’re there?”
“Not unless you tell her.
Let me step outside so’s we can talk.”
The music faded away as he left the club.
“That’s a damn sight better.
What you need, little lady?”
“You’re out of the loop today.”
“You ain’t soundin’ too chipper.
“My parents are dead.”
She spoke in a monotone as if she couldn’t believe the words were leaving her lips.
“Oh, shit,” Cantrell said.
His whole demeanor changed.
I could hear the concern in his voice, and I instantly liked him.
“I just need some information.
Lina said you might be able to help.”
“Anything you need, darlin’.
Just name it.”
I need to know about some crystals.
Something my parents were probably working on.
I think they were killed because of that.”
“I can’t talk about this on the phone, Naomi.
You wanna hear about this, we gotta meet.”
“All right,” she said, looking at me.
“When and where?” she asked.
“Tomorrow morning at eight.
I’ll be at the Denny’s at Alameda and Santa Fe.”
First, I’m real sorry about your folks.”
“Second, you’d best get someone to look out for you tonight.
You go someplace safe and don’t tell anyone where you are.
You got that?”
“And you bring someone with you tomorrow morning.
Until this thing is over, you don’t go anywhere alone.
“I gotta go.
You be safe.”
He hung up.
“Trap?” Kelly asked from the front seat.
“He sounded legitimately concerned to me,” I said.
“I’ve known Frank for years.
He’s a good person.”
“He’s a wizard, though, right?” Kelly asked.
“Trap.” Kelly pulled into my driveway. “I’ll check the condo,” she said.